Cherries from the Farmers Market
One Saturday in early June the Lexington Farmers Market theme is fennel. The next week sour cherries show up, making me happy happy happy. I buy four pints of Montmorency cherries from Hazelfield Farms, producers of the Market's most glorious cut flower arrangements.
I make Sunday dinner:
Cold Cherry Soup (recipe below) Roast Elmwood Stock Farm chicken, with my mother's "baste" (recipe below) Baked new Casey County red potatoes, dug two days before, according to the grower (sweet!) Fresh Roc d'Or beans from our Campsie garden (sweet!) Raggard Truck Farm's fresh beets (also sweet - it's another theme!) Cherry crisp (sour-sweet, with whipped sour cream, recipe for cream below)
This beautiful meal tasted beautiful, too.
I grew up with sour cherry trees and sour cherry pies. Sour cherries (sometimes called "pie cherries") are my favorite fruit for fruit desserts like tarts, crisps, and pies. Cherries' mysterious almond-spice-sour-sweet flavors intrigue and satisfy me.
In 2003, our son Noah married his love Alison on June 14. We had a happy house full of company, and I found sour cherries at the Farmers Market -- a treasure! (I think any Kentucky market should overflow with these spectacular fruits each June, but instead, cherries are rare.)
My mother-in-law, Eloise Kay, and her sister, Thelma Waldman, told me their mother made a cold soup from sour cherries. I found recipes easily, and bravely tried this idea, which was brand new to me. I had no real idea what I was trying to duplicate, but Eloise and Thelma were kind enough to pronounce the results "really close" to their mother's soup. Everyone else simply slurped it up. Now I make sour cherry soup each time I find the fruit. The ingredients are so simple it is hard to believe how complex and refreshing the soup tastes.
- Wash and pit a quart of sour cherries. Pit them over a strainer or colander that is set in a bowl so you catch all the extra juice.
- Feel your way through the pitted cherries, looking for the stray tooth-breaking pits ("stones") that always seem to find their way into the finished product. Remove anything you feel that is not soft cherry.
- Put the cherries and juice in a medium stainless steel saucepan.
- Add 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Optional: Add a 1 inch piece of fresh stick cinnamon. (Try this and see if you like the taste. Most cherry soup recipes call for cinnamon. I like it only if the eventual taste is subtle.)
- Add water to the pan to a level just below the top of the cherries.
- Cook over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, untl the cherries are quite soft.
- Let the cherries cool.
- If you used the cinnamon stick, remove and discard it now.
- Put the cooked cherries and juice into a blender. Add 1/3 cup white sugar. (Organic sugar is particularly sweet and delicious in this recipe.)
- Blend for a minute or until ultra-smooth.
- Taste and add more sugar if necessary. The need for sugar will vary with cherry type and ripeness, as well as with individual preferences. (The chilled soup will taste slightly less sweet than the room temperature version, so add a couple of tablespoons of sugar is the taste is on the edge of too tart.)
- Chill thoroughly.
- Serve in a cold bowl. Garnish with a tiny dollop of sour cream and a spring of Kentucky mint as garnish. (Or paint with the sour cream on the soup's surface, using a tooth pick to "draw" the initial dollop of sour cream into shapes.)
Mother's "basted" chicken
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt 1/3 cup fresh butter. Brown it lightly if you like.
- Stir in enough unbleached flour to make a spreadable paste.
- Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 2 teaspoons sweet paprika. (I used Blue Moon"s "Only Sweet" Paprika - outstanding.) Mix well.
- Wash the chicken and pat it dry with towels or clean cloths.
- Put the chicken in an ovenproof baking dish, breast side up. Smear the "baste" on all its surfaces.
- Bake at 375 degrees until the chicken reaches 165 degrees on your handy dandy instant read thermometer. Check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast and the meatiest inside part of the thigh. (You can also wiggle the legs or wing joints to see if they feel easy and loose, another sign of "doneness.") The chicken should be lightly golden all over. Depending on the size of the chicken, roasting will be complete in 90 minutes, more or less.
Whipped sour cream
I grew up with fresh cream from our own milk cows. It sometimes proved hard to whip into reliable peaks, but its taste set the standard for all whipped cream to follow.
Today, even with purchased cream, I enjoy the ritual of whipping cream for dessert. I never buy cans of aerosol whipped cream - I don't want to give up the fun and taste of the real thing. For small amounts I use my treasured rotary beater in a small glass bowl or in my Pyrex four cup measure. For large amounts I use my mixer with the beater that is for beating egg whites. In either case, I add a tablespoon or two of sugar, a few drops of vanilla and about "eight grains" of salt.
Present day creams typically include a bunch of junk in addition to cream. I use Horizon Organic as a way to avoid fillers, gums, preservatives - as well as Bovine Growth Hormone. Even so, I often think the whipped cream lacks the buttery taste I remember from fresh cream in my childhood.
Sometime in the recent past I discovered that adding organic sour cream to the whipping cream produced a whole new taste that I find pleasing with every dessert that used to "require" whipped cream.
- Put 1 cup whipping cream and 1/2 cup sour cream in a mixer bowl. Beat at high speed until the cream mounds softly.
- Stop the beaters and add 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a scant 1/8 teaspoon salt.
- Beat on low speed until well mixed.
- Taste, add sugar, and mix again if you want the cream sweeter. (You will be pleasantly surprised at how delicious a barely sweet cream can be with sweet-tart fruit desserts, though.)